Top 25 Excuses for Poor Performance

When I first wrote on this topic, 5000 barrels of oil were spewing into the Gulf of Mexico daily. Although the cause of the Deep Water Horizon disaster was unknown at the time, the finger-pointing had begun in earnest. The three players involved: British Petroleum, Haliburton and Trans Ocean are all trying to distance themselves from their responsibility in this environmental and economic disaster of epic portion. BP, the contractor, is blaming Trans Ocean, the owner of the drilling rig, who in turn is blaming Haliburton, the maker of the risers connecting the well to the rig itself.

The finger-pointing is an attempt to minimize legal and political repercussions. These companies, like politicians and most of our society, try to absolve themselves of any responsibility for failure and incompetence by pointing the finger and shining the light on someone else, and claiming “it ain’t my fault”. That has become the new American Way.

As I watch and read about this posturing, I am reminded of just how much of this sort of thing goes on in business and in the profession of selling. Through the three decades in the selling profession, I have amassed a list of 25 commonly repeated excuses that sales professionals make for lack of production. Take a look at the list below and be honest with yourself about how many of these excuses you, as a salesperson, make or, as a sales manager, you accept.

Top 25 Excuses for Poor Performance

  1. My quota is too high.
  2. My territory is too small.
  3. My company doesn’t advertise enough.
  4. Our marketing material is out of date.
  5. Our price is too high.
  6. We don’t get enough leads.
  7. I got undercut on price.
  8. The gatekeeper won’t let me through.
  9. Money is tight.
  10. The economy is slow.
  11. Businesses are not spending money.
  12. My prospects lie to me.
  13. We have a long sales cycle.
  14. Prospects need time to think about it.
  15. I don’t like making cold calls.
  16. They are happy with their current supplier.
  17. Rejection wipes me out.
  18. We’re not competitive.
  19. They’re comparing us to the competition.
  20. They just signed a new contract.
  21. I can’t get through voice mail.
  22. They won’t return my call.
  23. They have to take it to the committee.
  24. They were just shopping price.
  25. They used my proposal to get competitive pricing.

While some of these may have a grain of truth associated with them, it is a mistake to allow these excuses to mask the real reason that salespeople are not successful. In selling, just as in life, things do not happen in a vacuum. Everything happens for a reason. It is the law of cause and effect. For every action or inaction there is a consequence, either positive or negative, and you are ultimately responsible for your actions or inactions and the consequences or situations you experience in life.

In his book, “The Psychology of Winning”, Denis Waitley writes that ‘self honesty and responsibility are two key pre-requisites to improved performance.’ Unfortunately, those personal characteristics are in short supply these days.


Richard Lindsey

Great article, Steve. The hard part may be in recognizing these traits in ourselves and deciding to change. Last night on the television show Survivor, the newest ‘sole survivor’ was crowned and awarded 1 million dollars. However the player who arguably played the game the hardest, Russell, was shutout of any winning votes because of negative traits he refused to acknowledge and do anything about. The same effect awaits us if we don’t honestly look at ourselves and ask, “What can I do different?”

Steve Clark


Self honesty is a trait lacking in many. Most would rather stick their head in the sand and ignore their flaws instead of trying to do something about them.

John Edwards

You know Steve, I have used a few of those myself. Poor performance is the manifestation of poor planning.

Karen Valls

It IS a great article and I swear I’ve used or heard just about every excuse you’ve put up there Steve! BUT, the difference here is I want very much to get out of the rut, make money and change my lifestyle. I am willing to think differently and work smarter to make that change.

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